Jonathan Edwards: The Beauty of Work. A Colonial American argument for social responsibility in the workplace . Why I’m interested in Edwards. I’m a “blue-blooded Boston Brahman”. I’m a Christian ethicist and theologian. I’m the director of the Jonathan Edwards Center – Poland. .
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A Colonial American argument for social responsibility in the workplace
I’m a “blue-blooded Boston Brahman”.
I’m a Christian ethicist and theologian.
I’m the director of the Jonathan Edwards Center – Poland.
You teach or study American literature, culture, history and/or (business) ethics.
You are forced to read/teach “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.
He’s a Calvinist. How do you like someone who believes God creates people just to send most of them to hell?
He appeals to idealistic philosophy, metaphysics, and the Bible.
He uses big words and archaic grammar.
The “Sinners” sermon is a rhetorical masterpiece – but it is set in a cultural, intellectual, religious climate far removed from readers today.
For Edwards, ‘doctrinal statements’ function as grammatical rules implicit in discourse.
Doctrine is foundational for the ethical, philosophical, theological structures that draw upon it.
Theology is an “ad hoc performance … a tool in Christian communal self-description [which requires us to constantly restate doctrine] in the light of cultural and conceptual change.”
A shift from universalist accounts toward particularist accounts ‘that proceed from within a specific historical and theological context.”
This allows us to compare particular systems and authors.
For Edwards free will is not an instrument for moral struggle and victorious achievement, but a capacity for friendship and mystic communion.
Edwards’ ethics is not fueled by the fires of hell but enlightened by the the beauty of God.
Beauty is “consent to being”.
Trinity: mutual relationship of love.
God’s idea of himself is perfect – this is God the Son. The Holy Spirit is the result of mutual love between the Father and Son.
“In Edward’s Trinitarian writings there is a strong theme that accords with the emphasis in contemporary feminist ethics on the positive role of erotic love and intimacy.”
Love is relationship.
Love is the sum and root of all virtues, moral attitudes and actions.
Beauty is active not passive.
It is not being beautiful but “beautifying”.
God’s essential virtues are knowledge, love and joy.
„The Father is the principle of happiness, the Son the principle of knowledge and understanding, and the Spirit the principle of love. Hence…the Father has love because the Holy Spirit dwells in him; the Father understanding because the Son dwells in Him, and so on.
God’s joy could not be contained, it overflowed and the world was created as an extension of the beauty and life of God.
For God love is a disposition, a habit, a life-style.
Edwards was a panentheist!
God gives himself to others, creates them to love and be loved.
Human beings are created in God’s image, to love, to seek relationships, to bless and to beautify.
Humans beings created in the image of God are also active (dynamic), relational, creative beings.
Personalism: Ethics arises from the encounter with another person.
Our lives are transformed by perceiving beauty, by reverence for the presence and power of (divine, religious, ethical, human) life.
This awakens a desire to participate in that life, to participate in its beautifying activity.
Imagining the world as a better place is the first, essential step to making it a better place.
Communitarianism versus liberalism?
Morality in business? Social responsibility in the marketplace?
Common (ethical) ground between Christians, humanists, agnostics, followers of other religions?
Libertarians (“classic liberals”) argue for a robust set of property rights that rules out government redistribution and requires a laissez-faire capitalist economy.
(Egalitarian) liberals argue that some redistribution is necessary to preserve equality of opportunity and to prevent or ameliorate poverty.
The liberal tradition puts too much emphasis on individual liberty and too little on community.
Community is a crisscrossing network of relationships between a group of individuals who share a common set of values, norms.
Carrot and stick approach.
Communitarians accept liberalism’s core commitments of constitutionalism and individual human rights.
Communitarians argue for a communitarian form of liberalism, with a less expansive interpretation of basic human rights.
A prosperous society was a godly society.
Agodly society was a cohesive society.
In a cohesive society individuals sacrificed private interest for the public good.
Therefore, a wise people relinquished their private interests for the common good.
He believed spiritual regeneration brings social reformation.
Revivals would spark social benevolence.
Northampton's elite should model justice in their economic dealings.
The rich should act industriously for the benefit of society.
Sloth is a disgrace to one's calling.
God prospers those who are of a liberal, charitable, bountiful spirit.
Wealth belongs ultimately to the community… individuals are stewards of the common wealth.
Benevolenceis most effective when channeled through the church.
Crisis: inflation, depreciation, trade imbalance, budget (gov’t) deficits, poor investments, private debt.
Edwards despaired of a Christian economic system, and proposed specific rules of economic policy.
Edwards did not trust the hidden hand of the market.
His resistance to a market economy followed from his suspicion of private enterprise, which in turn resulted from his view of human nature as fallen and sinful.
Edwards’ understood the most important threats to a free market economy(1) monopoly, (2) information asymmetry, (3) externalities.
Edwards expressed insights into the ‘law of supply and demand’ and understood that “buying and selling” (if regulated) could benefit society.
The degree to which Edwards (mis)understood the free market does not devaluate his moral judgments.
Rather his [particularist] ethics provides us with a a framework to judge the moral value of our current economic system.
The mid-eighteenth century context--the regnant economic ideology or the meaning of terms such as extortion or monopoly-- compels us to pause before we assume that Edwards really knew what a Smithian free market was. Nonetheless, this essay works well in thinking from Edwards forward rather than locking him into a pre-modern past economic ideology.
Simple self-love: the love for oneself, one’s own good.
Compounded self-love: the delight one has in the good of others; this is rooted in a law of nature.
Both are good and needed. ‘The good of society requires justice.” But man’s self-interest can also undermine society.
A man should enjoy the fruit of his labor and the benefit of his property.
But the right to property never goes against the community.
Scarcity should determine prices: it is God’s providential activity upon the whole society.
Merchants should never use inflation to take advantage of the customer.
Edwards seeks to ensure societal stability because economic instability undermines of individual rights.
Charity is vitally connected to property rights. With societal privileges comes societal duties.
“God has commanded charity through revelation, but also through natural reason.”
Natural property rights will lead to varying distribution of wealth among the populace, but the providence that distributes monetary and societal privileges also gives duties.
By explicitly connecting natural law and property rights, Edwards believes he has ensured societal stability.
A highly communitarian form of classical liberalism, drawn from his vision of the beauty of God.
Driven by his theology, by his vision of God’s beauty, but open to other religious, ethical, humanist traditions.
Edwards’ ethics is implicitly Christian.
His insights can be restated as religious ethics.
Or as humanistic ethics.
An alternative to rule-based and utilitarian ethical systems.
Grounded in recognition of beauty and reverence for being.
Dynamic not passive.
Inclusive, not exclusive.
Engaged, interdependent not individualistic.
Be active, not passive.
Be present for others, seeking relationship, meeting needs.
Seek the public (not private) good.
Imagine and work for a better world (beauty, peace, justice).
Can you imagine virtue and love as forms of beauty rather than as forms of goodness?
Edwards helps us reclaim the innate and essential relation between aesthetics and ethics.
Home is where we are right now.
Home is a different way of being present, of appreciating the beauty we are given and experience, of enhancing the beauty of everything we touch.
This is a journey of discovery.
This is a social not individual journey.
This is a journey towards greater beauty, peace, justice among people, between people and all being (animals, nature).
“Our deepest religious responsibility is to love creation and hallow it – in order that it may be changed.”
H. Richard Niebuhr
Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.”
Jonathan Edwards Center – Poland
Ewangelical School of Theology in Wrocław
Vol. 7, 2012 Jonathan Edwards